The surname Cunningham is derived from the district of that name in Ayrshire. The descent of the Cunninghams is traditionally from Malcom, a son of Freskin, making this clan a cadet of the Murrays. Hugh of Moreville, Constable of Scotland, granted to Warnebald the property of Kilmaurs in the district of Cunningham in Ayrshire. When King Haakon IV of Norway, brought his fleet to the Scottish coast in 1263, to assert his authority over the Western Isles, Harvey Cunningham of Kilmaurs was among those who helped to repulse him at the Battle of Largs.
Hugh de Cunningham received the lands of Lamburgton from Robert the Bruce in 1321. His grandson, Sir William. married the heiress of Danielston, and he acquired Finlaystoun, which became one of the principal seats of the family. His grandson, Sir Alexander, was created Lord Kilmaurs in 1462, and Earl of Glencairn in 1488. William 3rd Earl, was captured at the rout of Solway Moss, but released but was released on a promise to promote a marriage between Edward VI to Mary Queen of Scots.
William, 8th Earl, was Lord Justice-General of Scotland, and raised a rebellion in the Highlands for Charles II in 1653 that was doomed to failure. When Scotland came under the iron grip of Cromwell's Generals, he fled to the continent but returned at the Restoration to become Chancellor of Scotland. James 13th Earl, sold Kilmaurs in 1786. His brother, John, 14th Earl, is remembered as a close friend of Robert Burns, and after his death in 1791, Burns wrote the moving 'Lament for the Earl of Glencairn'.
The bridegroom may forget the bride,
Was made his wedded wife yestreen;
The monarch may forget the crown
That on his head an hour has been;
The mother may forget the child
That smiles sae sweetly on her knee;
But I'll remember thee, Glencairn,
And a' that thou hast done for me.
Sir Alexander Cunningham, 7th Lord of Corsehill, was created a Baronet in 1673, and his representative, Sir William Montgomery Cunningham, 11th Baronet, is regarded as the present chief of the Clan Cunningham, and the rightful heir of the Earldom of Glencairn.